, Volume 51, Issue 5, pp 1843–1866 | Cite as

Happiness: Before and After the Kids

  • Mikko MyrskyläEmail author
  • Rachel Margolis


Understanding how having children influences parents’ subjective well-being (“happiness”) has great potential to explain fertility behavior. We study parental happiness trajectories before and after the birth of a child, using large British and German longitudinal data sets. We account for unobserved parental characteristics using fixed-effects models and study how sociodemographic factors modify the parental happiness trajectories. Consistent with existing work, we find that happiness increases in the years around the birth of a first child and then decreases to before-child levels. Moreover, happiness increases before birth, suggesting that the trajectories may capture not only the effect of the birth but also the broader process of childbearing, which may include partnership formation and quality. Sociodemographic factors strongly modify this pattern. Those who have children at older ages or who have more education have a particularly positive happiness response to a first birth; and although having the first two children increases happiness, having a third child does not. The results, which are similar in Britain and Germany, suggest that having up to two children increases happiness, and mostly for those who have postponed childbearing. This pattern is consistent with the fertility behavior that emerged during the second demographic transition and provides new insights into low and late fertility.


Fertility Happiness Life course Parenthood 



This research was supported by the European Research Council Grant 2013-StG-336475 and an Insight Development grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We are grateful for comments and suggestions that we have received at the 2012 annual meeting of the Population Association of America and at seminars at Stockholm University, University of Hohenheim, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, McGill University, and Bowling Green State University. We also acknowledge helpful comments from Josh Goldstein, Jan Hoem, Elizabeth Gregory, Bill Avison, Debby Carr, Sam Preston, Michaela Kreyenfeld, Francesco Billari, Arnstein Aassve, and Carl Schmertmann.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social PolicyLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK
  2. 2.Population Research Unit, Department of Social ResearchUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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